Cynicism has always been very alluring to me. There’s something about having low expectations that feels good. For one thing, a hardcore cynic doesn’t mind being proven wrong. Who would have a problem with a situation turning out better than expected? It is also helpful that when you have low standards, you find that the standards are frequently exceeded. Now I must emphasize here that I am not advocating for extreme cynicism. For its one positive aspect there are a multitude of burdens that cynicism creates. It is unappealing to people, fosters a lack of motivation towards progress, complains constantly, quells hope, etc. But for all of its faults, I am finding my cynicism to be a wonderful inoculation to one of the greatest threats our society currently faces – unfounded optimism.
The murder of James Bulgar is a story which wrecks my heart. While all murders are tragic, this one feels to me as if it fits into a different category. The level of reprehensibility, of violence, of senselessness, and of the corruption of innocence eats away at my emotions. But in reality, the murder of James wasn't much different than the murders of other children, save for one fact - his murderers were children themselves. I think the reason the Bulgar case has become so infamous and why so many find it more tragic than other cases is because the source of evil came from an unexpected place. How could two children kidnap, torture, and murder a small child? That's not something children do. In fact, that's something it seems children aren't capable of doing. We don't expect to find great evil in certain places. We think such a thing is reserved for the darkest recesses of society. We expect evil to exist, but we don't expect it in all the places where we often find it.
Many Evangelicals harp on the fact that our culture has lost notions of sin. Our culture is often willing to call evil, "good." Certainly the redefining of morality is problematic, but I think there is something even more tragic going on.
There are quite a few characters you can criticize when it comes to the story of Jesus's crucifixion. The disciples were cowards and ran, with Peter even openly denying Christ numerous times. The religious leaders hounded Jesus and held a kangaroo court to convict him. The fickle crowds who were praising Jesus only a week before, now yelled out for his blood. In Luke's account, we even see Satan come into play as he enters Judas and has his hands in the mix. But for as cowardly, evil, or lost as some of these agents were, there is one character we often overlook. Pilate.
I think Pilate gets passed by so often because we can empathize with his position. Whereas the disciples were committed to Jesus and should have been loyal, and whereas the religious leaders were malicious and pursued Christ's blood, Pilate was caught in the middle of something he didn't want to be a part of. He had no loyalty to Jesus, but neither did he hold any malice. He was as impartial a judge as we could hope for in overseeing Jesus's trial. In fact, as we progress through the story, we see Pilate recognize Christ's innocence and attempt to free him using the various means he had at his disposal. To most, it seems like Pilate is a fairly decent guy who is trying to do the right thing, but ends up having to make a difficult decision in order to do his job by maintaining order.
Masculinity. That's a term I don't really care too much about. I don't care very much right now about definitions, cultural shifts, political agendas, or anything else out there in history, or out there in the modern world which is being used to dismiss injustice. Like Adam, we Christian men are far too good at shifting the blame, and all of the aforementioned areas are places which are all too easy for us to use in order to avoid the negative spotlight. We desire our egos stroked, we seek praise, we seek accolades - but God forbid we self-reflect and find truth. So men, forget about any other moral agent or agenda that exists right now and simply focus on yourselves.
But really, such a condition of self-absorption isn't a man's condition alone. It's a woman's condition as well. Like Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake, and failed to take responsibility for herself. Like Adam, Eve became a self-centered being as well. Self-preservation and self-acclaim are not something unique to any gender. However, men are currently beginning to come under the microscope in our culture (and rightly so), so I want to take a look at the human condition and human responsibility from a man's perspective. Just know that these applications can be applied more broadly to all humans in their differing power structures and situations.
Any good, lasting tradition revolves around some worldview notion that was deemed so valuable, it was preserved in the form of tradition. Even seemingly benign or childish traditions, like Santa Claus, contain entrenched worldview teachings. Santa, for instance, holds central this idea that good works are rewarded with material blessings. Your success is up to you. This is the American Dream. Work hard and do good and you will rise up. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos emphasizes the importance of family and heritage, the importance of legacy and being remembered, and the view of the continuation of a soul beyond death. While these traditions, and others, may often look shallow and eccentric (especially in our modern culture with heavy marketing), lasting traditions are often built on very deep beliefs.